may have been my most popular Guardian article of late, so I should share it here:
An Occupy-style movement has taken off in Istanbul. The ostensible issue of conflict is modest. Protesters started gathering
in the park on 27 May, to oppose its demolition as part of a
redevelopment plan. But this is more than an environmental protest. It
has become a lightning conductor for all the grievances accumulated
against the government.
Police have waited until the early hours
of each morning to attack, just as police in the US did when dealing
with Occupy protesters. They set fire to the tents
in which protesters were sleeping and showered them with pepper spray and teargas. A student had to undergo surgery
after injuries to his genitals.
The occupiers adapted and started to wear homemade gas masks
More importantly, they called for solidarity. In response to
yesterday's assault, thousands of protesters turned up, including
opposition politicians. But this morning's attack allowed no defence or
escape. The park, and the area around it, is still closed, and still under clouds of gas
In April, a Justice and Development party (AKP) leader warned that
the liberals who had supported them in the last decade would no longer
do so. This was as good a sign as any that the repression would
increase, as the neoliberal Islamist party forced through its
The AKP represents a peculiar type of conservative populism
Its bedrock, enriched immensely in the last decade, is the conservative
Muslim bourgeoisie that first emerged as a result of Turgut Özal's
economic policies in the 1980s. But, while denying it is a religious
party, it has used the politics of piety to gain a popular base and to
strengthen the urban rightwing.
It has spent more than a decade in
government building up its authority. The privatisation process has led
to accelerated inequality, accompanied by repression. But it has also
attracted floods of international investment, leading to growth rates of
close to 5% a year
This has enabled the regime to pay off the last of its IMF loans, so
that it was even in a position to offer the IMF $5bn to help with the
Eurozone crisis in 2012.
has also demonstrated confidence in the way it has attempted to deal
with the Kurdish question, and in its regional strategy. The government
embarked on significant new negotiations with the Kurdish Workers party
(PKK) in 2009, partly because it wants to forge a lucrative relationship
with the Kurdish regional government in Iraq.
Under the AKP, Turkey has been increasing its relative autonomy from traditional supporters in the White House and Tel Aviv
forging close relations with Iran, Hezbollah and even – until recently –
President Assad of Syria. This has been interpreted, hysterically, as
"neo-Ottomanism". It is simply an assertion of Turkey's new power.
is the context in which a struggle over a small park in a congested
city centre has become an emergency for the regime, and the basis for a
potential Turkish spring.